When a tornado hit Jacksonville on March 19, Buddy Lique of Alexandria had one job to do: operate the ham radios at the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency.
“The night of the tornado, he was here with us,” said Jonathan Gaddy, director of the EMA. “He stood watch with us.”
Lique won the Alabama Association of Emergency Managers’ “volunteer of the year” award on Friday for his efforts during the tornado and the recovery process.
As others in the city sought shelter from the storm, Lique sacrificed his own shelter to help others be aware of the damage and the track of the tornado.
“We were there before the tornado struck,” Lique said. He said the work of the different radio operators was “instrumental in early communications” during and after the tornado.
Lique said the radio operators were plugged directly in with the National Weather Service, which enabled them to quickly and effectively communicate what was happening in Jacksonville.
“As we saw storm damage, we responded through the radio or a NWS chat room,” he said.
Gaddy said Lique played a vital role during the disaster and in the first few days immediately after the tornado.
“Without those guys, we wouldn’t have had the capacity to handle the situation,” he said.
During his six years as a volunteer radio operator, Lique said nothing compared to the March tornado.
“It was absolutely the biggest disaster by far,” Lique said.
Lique first started as a volunteer radio operator in 2012 when he received his license through the Calhoun County Amateur Radio Association. He now serves as the coordinator of Amateur Radio Emergency Service and director of Calhoun County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. Both groups work with the Calhoun County EMA during disasters such as the March 19 tornado.
Gaddy said Lique made a personal sacrifice during the first few weeks after the tornado.
“He took time off from his job to volunteer,” he said.
During the first two and a half weeks after the tornado, Lique took seven days off from his job at the Calhoun County Water Authority to volunteer his time and help organize the roughly 5,500 volunteers who poured into Jacksonville.
Lique said he was shocked when he received the award. He spoke on a panel at the Alabama Disaster Preparedness Conference earlier that day, not realizing he had been nominated for the volunteer award.
“I had no idea they had made arrangements for my wife, Monica, to be there,” he said.
Gaddy said he and the EMA office nominated Lique not only because of his work during the March disaster, but also for his ability to unify the 25 other volunteer radio operators in the county and his commitment to serving the community.
“He has strength in terms of being a unifier and bringing the volunteers together,” he said.
Lique said he is always encouraging more people to become volunteer radio operators, as staffing in large-scale disasters can always be an issue.
“Some of the volunteers were victims themselves,” he said regarding the tornado. “Staffing for us was the biggest challenge.”
Lique plans to continue to volunteer as a ham radio operator in Calhoun County, though he hopes never to be faced with such a large disaster again.
“I’ll continue to as long as I see a need and as long as they’ll keep me around,” he said.
Staff Writer Allison Preslar: 256-600-8688. On Twitter: @APreslar_Star